A retired FBI agent who vanished six years ago in Iran, reportedly during a covert CIA operation, was arrested by authorities in the Islamic state, the last person to see him alive was quoted as saying on Monday.
In an interview with the Christian Science Monitor, Iran-based American fugitive Dawud Salahuddin said Iranian agents had detained Robert Levinson during a meeting between the two men on the island of Kish in 2007.
Salahuddin, a convert to Islam who has lived in Iran since carrying out a 1980 murder in the United States on behalf of the Tehran regime, said Levinson had been trying to recruit him as an informant before his arrest.
"They took me away, and when I left –- we were down in the lobby –- Levinson was surrounded by four Iranian police," Salahuddin said.
US officials have long maintained that Levinson was merely a businessman on a trip overseas when he disappeared.
However US media reports last week said Levinson was in fact working for the Central Intelligence Agency on a secret mission to gather intelligence.
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Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied all knowledge of Levinson's whereabouts on Sunday, insisting his fate was "a mystery" and that he was not incarcerated by Iranian authorities.
However Salahuddin, wanted for murder in the United States after killing a critic of Iran's revolutionary regime 33 years ago, insisted Levinson had been taken into custody by Iranian agents after the two men met at the Maryam Hotel on Kish on March 9, 2007.
He said the recent evidence suggesting Levinson was working for the CIA, and was not a legitimate businessman, might now enable Iran to release him.
"It allows the Iranians to justify all their lies for all these years because they had an actual intelligence operative, which is quite valid," Salahuddin was quoted as saying.
Salahuddin meanwhile denied suggestions he had orchestrated Levinson's arrest.
"I’ve seen all those things, that I set the guy up and all that. Listen, I don't do things like that -- that's not a part of my makeup," he said.